- By Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
When you can’t take the stampede of swimmers vying for towel space at Barton Springs Pool or the waist-deep crowds of hipsters at Sculpture Falls, it’s time to head to lesser-known parks, trails and pools.
Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up a list of suggestions to keep you from getting caught in the crowds at Austin’s most famous summer hideouts.
Grab your swimsuit, bicycle or hiking shoes and check out these off-the-beaten path points of interest:
1. Hancock Springs Pool
Sometimes you need to escape the big city. Consider a trip to Hancock Springs Pool in Lampasas, which reminds me of a smaller version of Barton Springs Pool. Locals have been dipping their toes into its refreshing waters since 1911. The original gravel bottom has been paved over, but the water from a freshwater spring still gurgles into the curved pool at a rate of 450 gallons per minute. Floats and picnic baskets are allowed, and the water measures 8 feet deep in the center. Like Barton Springs, the pool celebrates summertime full moons with an evening party and potluck.
Info: Hancock Park is on U.S. 281 South in Lampasas. Admission $3.50 ages 13 and up, $2.50 ages 3-12 and seniors over 55. Call 512-556-4048 for schedule; www.lampasas.org.
2. The Colorado River in Webberville
Shove off from Little Webberville Park for a cruise down the Colorado River to Big Webberville Park and you’ll forget about those packed city parks. Instead of hordes of people, you’ll find blue herons, turtles and fish. The 5-mile trip takes about two hours, and even though it’s close to downtown Austin, it feels like the country. Thanks to concrete boat ramps, the put-in and takeout are a snap.
Info: Cook’s Canoes, 1004 Water St. in Webberville, rents canoes for $40 and kayaks for $30 (cash only, extra for shuttle service). 512-276-7767, cookscanoes.com.
3. Mother Neff State Park
One of the earliest parks in Texas, Mother Neff State Park lies about an hour and a half north of Austin. The park’s shady trails make it perfect for trail running and hiking, and history buffs will appreciate the remains of an old Civilian Conservation Corps encampment. The legacy of the work those men did in the 1930s lives on today through the park’s stone pavilion, recreation hall, roads and water tower. The new visitors center features an exhibit about the CCC history, too. The park is named for Mrs. Isabella Eleanor “Mother” Neff, mother of Gov. Pat Morris Neff. She donated the original 6-acre parcel of land.
Info: Mother Neff State Park is located on Texas 236, about 15 miles west of the Moody exit. Admission is $2, free 12 and under. For more information, call 254-853-2389 or go to texasstateparks.org.
4. Reimers Ranch Park
When Hamilton Pool hits capacity, head down the road to Reimers Ranch Park. Rock climbing, mountain biking, bird watching and fishing rank high on the to-do list at this county park, but we prefer swimming in the Pedernales River, which is flowing with gusto in the wake of our wet spring. No camping allowed.
Info: Reimers Ranch Park is located at 23610 Hamilton Road. Open 8 a.m. until twilight daily. Entry fee $10 per vehicle. For more information, call 512-264-1923 or go to tinyurl.com/pkltn3d.
5. River Place Nature Trail
When the Barton Creek greenbelt feels like a downtown sidewalk, check out the River Place Nature Trail, which climbs up rocky steps and winds through canyons and hilltops along Panther Hollow Creek in Northwest Austin. Backpackers and endurance athletes head there to get their hiking legs ready for the next adventure. Nature lovers revel in the scenery, which includes ferns and small waterfalls.
Info: The trail has two access points — 4207 River Place Blvd. and 8830 Big View Drive. Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Free. friendsofriverplacetrail.com.
6. Slaughter Creek Trail
This 5-mile trail, built by volunteers from Austin Ridge Riders, offers the perfect challenge for intermediate-level mountain bikers. Instead of bone-cracking cliffs and steep drop-offs, it’s mostly smooth dirt single track, with a few rock gardens tossed in, that unspools over gentle hillsides. Plan on about 45 minutes to make the loop through the 100-acre, city-owned Slaughter Creek Preserve, set aside for water quality. Watch for hikers and trail runners, and if you encounter someone on a horse, slow down, step off the trail and talk (nicely!) to the animal as it passes.
Info: Enter gate at 9901 FM 1826 to reach the trailhead. Open dawn to dusk daily, unless it’s been raining. Free. Check facebook.com/slaughtercreektrail for conditions.
7. Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area
Pack your mountain bike along with your swimsuit when you head to this 540-acre park on Lake Travis, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The mountain bike trails and biking skills park are superb. Those who don’t want to make a full circuit can cut their ride short at several points. Pitch your tent at a primitive site within easy walking distance of the shoreline, or picnic at a table with a nice view of the (better than full) lake. Some campsites lack shade, and the only flush toilets, plus a rinsing shower, are located near the park entrance.
Info: Muleshoe Bend is located at 2820 County Road 414 near Spicewood, 512-473-3366; lcra.org/parks. Entry fee $5 adults; $10 primitive camping.
8. Palmetto State Park
This park is a jewel, dropped like a tropical nature bomb into the rolling hills southeast of Luling, about an hour’s drive from Austin. The 300-acre oasis gets its name from the swales of dwarf palmettos, the westernmost stand of the tropical palms with spiky, fan-shaped leaves. It’s popular for camping, swimming in the San Marcos River, birding and fishing in a stocked oxbow lake. Pedal boat, canoe, tube, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available. A short boardwalk allows access to the park’s unique wetlands without damaging them. The campground is pleasantly shady, but if a tent sounds too rustic, try the air-conditioned cabin, available for rent. It has no running water but does have a small refrigerator, microwave and outdoor grill, plus a glorious wraparound porch.
Info: 78 Park Road 11 South near Gonzales. Entry fee $3 adults; 12 and under free. Camping $12 to $20; cabin $65. 830-672-3266; tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/palmetto.
9. Colorado Bend State Park
You’ll feel like you’ve wandered into a little slice of Costa Rican jungle as you approach the park’s biggest attraction, moss-covered Gorman Falls. You can’t swim in the falls, but you can take a dip in the Colorado River, which curls past the park’s main campground. My favorite spot, though, is the string of spring-fed pools along a creek beneath a limestone ridge at the opposite end of the 5,300-acre park. It’s terrific terrain for hiking, trail running, caving and some pretty awesome mountain biking, too. It’s all an hour and 45 minute drive from Austin.
Info: Colorado Bend State Park is west of Lampasas. From the intersection of U.S. 281 and U.S. 183 in Lampasas, take FM 580 west 24 miles to Bend and follow the signs 4 miles to the park entrance. The headquarters is 6 miles past the entrance on a dirt road. Entry fee is $5, free 12 and under. For more information, call 325-628-3240 or go to tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/colorado_bend.
10. Murchison Community Swimming Pool
I grew up spending long summer afternoons roasting in the sun at this neighborhood pool in Northwest Hills, which we dubbed “The Traz” because we thought the adjacent middle school looked like Alcatraz Prison. I’ve never encountered a crowd here, even on hot summer weekends. The pool got overhauled over the winter, and new shade awnings, picnic tables and tile around the pool edges have spruced things up nicely. Even better? Unlike nearby Beverly S. Sheffield Northwest Municipal Pool just a few miles away, this one’s free.
Info: Murchison Pool is located at 3700 North Hills Drive. Closed Mondays all summer. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends through July 24; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 25-Aug. 20. For more information, austintexas.gov/department/murchison-pool.